I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts, which is why this blog hasn’t been very active lately. As such, I’d like to leave it up to the readers: what would you like us to write about? Would you like to know something specific about our atheism? Do you have an argument that you’d like us to address? Would you like us to discuss a particular book? Do you have any questions about Philosophy, Biology, or History? Would you like to know our stance on a particular feminist issue? Is there something else you’d like us to write on? Let us know in the comment section.
Tag Archives: non-theism
While all of the non-theisms get confused by believers, none are as regularly confused as agnosticism is. Many people believe that agnosticism is just a lighter form of atheism, and others believe that all atheists should actually call themselves agnostics. These misconceptions hurt atheists.
So what is agnosticism? The term ‘agnosticism’ was initially coined by Thomas Huxley while he was at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He was upset with the way atheists conducted themselves and believed the to be as irrational as theists. He defined agnosticism as those who believed that the question of whether gods existed was unsolved and insolvable. However, the word agnostic is much older than Huxley’s first use of it. Agnostic is a Greek word that comes from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Agnostic can be literally translated as meaning “not knowledge.” Some translate it as “without knowledge,” which is cleaner for the purposes of English. Somebody who is agnostic about religion is without knowledge about religion.
Today, the term agnostic is often used to describe those who simply believe that the evidence for or against the existence of gods is inconclusive. People who call themselves agnostic are undecided about whether or not gods exist. Many people believe that agnosticism is a midway point between atheism and theism, but this is not the case. Theists believe that gods exist, but atheists believe that there are no gods. Theists also only hold beliefs about specific gods, or types of gods. Atheists believe that no gods exist. As such, while atheism and theism are opposites, they are not perfect opposites. They also don’t really contain an in-between. You are either an atheist or you are a theist. You either believe that gods exist or you don’t. Agnosticism is not in between these two because agnosticism doesn’t deal with belief. Agnosticism deals with knowledge. An agnostic is not strictly interested in gods either. They are more concerned with the idea that you cannot know something without suitable evidence.
The opposite of an agnostic would be a gnostic. People who are gnostic (Not to be confused with the Gnostics) are people who believe they can know facts about things. Today, that generally applies to gods. A gnostic is someone who knows whether or not gods exist. If someone says “I know there is a God,” they are a gnostic. If someone says “I know there are no gods,” they are also a gnostic. If they were to say “I believe that God exists, but I don’t know for sure,” they are an agnostic. And if they say “I don’t know if gods exist, but I don’t believe they do,”they too are an agnostic. The first and third person are theists, the second and fourth are atheists. Agnosticism is yet another layer piled on top of both theists and atheists. In fact, agnosticism has been said to be the reason why one is theist or atheist. I don’t entirely accept that, but, since agnosticism comes from a place of knowledge, I understand why someone would accept that idea. This gives four kinds of belief-holding (sentient) entities in the world:
There are thought to be different kinds of agnosticism. Some call the belief that we cannot know whether gods exist “strict agnosticism.” They call the belief that we merely do not know yet “empirical agnosticism.” I don’t quite see the point in these two qualifications. As far as I’m concerned, we either know if gods exist or we don’t. I would say that we can’t know whether we can know whether gods exist, because, if we could, then we would know whether or not gods exist. So the argument about whether we can know is futile and brings about unnecessary arguments. But some care more about our ability to know whether gods exist than I do, and who am I to destroy their fun?
It’s also important to understand why people call themselves what they call themselves. I’m an agnostic atheist because I don’t believe that gods exist, but I also don’t know for sure. I call myself an atheist when asked for multiple reasons. First, it would be silly to assume that the person asking me what I believe is interested in knowing whether or not I know gods exist. Answering “I’m an agnostic” when somebody asks me “what do you believe?” is basically answering the question “What god, if any, do you believe in?” with “I don’t know whether gods exist.” It’s answering a question that wasn’t asked. But saying “I’m an atheist” does answer the question. Another reason why I don’t say I’m an agnostic is because it gives people the wrong idea. If I say “I’m an agnostic,” the person I’m talking to may assume that I’m a theist who simply doesn’t know what god I believe in, or they may believe that I’m looking for the right god to believe in. And the third reason that I don’t tell people that I’m an agnostic is because of the stigma associated with being an atheist. By saying “I’m an agnostic,” I’m avoiding the title of atheist, a title that I know is mine, and allowing atheists to continue to be stigmatized. By wearing the title “atheist” people learn what an atheist truly looks like, and they realize that atheists aren’t crazy people who are out to destroy religion. Those are my reasons for not telling people that I’m an agnostic. Other people have their own reasons for either using agnostic as their title or avoiding it. As such, remember that words are slippery, and language isn’t exact. Be careful of assuming what someone else’s beliefs or positions are simply based on whether they call themself an atheist or an agnostic. Don’t assume that a person uses agnosticism to mean what is called “weak atheism,” or that they use atheism to mean “strong atheism.”
Atheism 101 number 3 will be broken up into 3 parts. In this part I will discuss the majority of non-theist positions. I will discuss what they are and how they relate to atheism. In the next post I will discuss agnosticism, and I will discuss anti-theism in the third part. I will be giving them their own posts due to the assumptions that a) all atheists are actually agnostics, and b) that all atheists hate religion and are therefore anti-theists. I will be braking this post up into the different non-theisms I will be discussing.
I will begin with the general term “non-theism.” There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding this term. In reality, it holds the same meaning as “atheism,” but it has a Latin root rather than a Greek one. However, they tend to be used differently. A non-theist is simply someone who is not a theist. Atheists are non-theists, as is anyone who falls into any of the categories that I will be discussing in the next few days. But some people simply identify as non-theists. So what are non-theists?
Historically, non-theists have been those who feel a genuine connection to something they consider to be God, but they reject any traditional understandings of what God is. Bishop John Shelby Spong has been considered by some to be a non-theist because he quite clearly rejected the popular theistic understandings of “a personal being with expanded supernatural, human, and parental qualities, which has shaped every religious idea of the Western world.” At the same time, he was a theist in the sense that he believed in a god and he considered that god to be the Christian God. As such, some would consider a non-theist to be someone who does not accept a theistic understanding of gods. I personally wouldn’t consider such a person to be a non-theist. This is for the same reason that I wouldn’t consider a god-believing person to be an atheist: it waters down the term into meaninglessness. A non-theist is by definition not a theist, and a theist is by definition is a person who believes in at least one god. As such, if a person believes in at least one god, even in a deistic sense, they cannot be a non-theist. In my mind, it is the lack of belief in a god that defines someone as a non-theist. This is the same as the definition of an atheist. But, again, different people use the word differently, and it is important to be aware of these differences in word use so that we do not talk past one another by mistake.
The next term I will discuss is Skepticism. Skepticism is another term that is not so well understood. This is because there are multiple kinds of skepticism. The term “skeptic” came from ancient Greece and referred to a group of philosophers who believed that it was impossible to know anything. This is still the term used to refer to philosophical skeptics. However, very few people would consider themselves to be philosophical skeptics. Skeptics within the atheist movement are different. Religious skepticism tends to refer to doubt towards a religious beliefs or claims. Anyone, theist or non-theist, can hold this kind of skepticism. However, atheistic skeptics take this religious skepticism even farther. They do not just question certain religious claims, they question all religious claims. They demand that the scientific and historical methods of showing evidence be used to test a claim before they are willing to consider the claim to be true. Michael Shermer is one of the biggest names in atheistic skepticism. As is James Randi.
While atheistic skepticism is not the same as atheism or agnosticism, the followers of this movement tend to identify as either atheists or agnostics. It is a common misconception that skeptics are people who simply disbelieve things for the sake of disbelieving them, or who disbelieve everything beyond reason. I don’t think that this is entirely a misconception, as it is common to find people who call themselves skeptics and are unwilling to believe things even when disbelief is more irrational than belief. There is a fine art to skepticism that a lot of people don’t understand. For example, when there is a 2% chance that a person is lying about having been raped and a 98% chance that they are telling the truth, believing that they are lying is irrational. However, a lot of skeptics will refuse to believe that a person has been raped until there is more evidence than can be expected to be found on any crime scene. But this is not what it means to be a skeptic and it is not the case with all skeptics. Skepticism merely means demanding that there be evidence for a claim before being willing to accept it. It means only believing what you know to be probabilistically true. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s finding a supported conclusion based on evidence, not the justification to a preconceived conclusion.
I consider myself to be a skeptic. I view skepticism as a very important part of the search for truth. However, I am not a fan of the current skeptics movement. As it stands right now, the skeptics movement is where most of the problems in atheism can be found. Too many believe themselves to be skeptical an ignore their own irrationalities. Too many are willing to excuse the abuses within the movement. As a result, I don’t spend much time at skeptics events or in skeptics communities.
The next term I will discuss is Secularism. Secularism is the idea that government institutions and people mandated to represent their country be separate from religious institutions and religious leaders. Unlike non-theism and skepticism, this is not generally viewed as a group to belong to or a title to give oneself. Rather it is a position that one holds or a condition of the state. Secularism manifests itself in the assertion that people have the right to be free from religious rule and in the declaration to be neutral on matters of belief. People who support secularism also tend to hold the view that public activities and decisions should not be influenced by religious beliefs.
There are many reasons why people support secularism. Historically, governments weren’t secular. A country would have one religion that was put above all others (and one denomination within that religion). If you were a part of that religion, then you were treated fairly well. But if you were a member of another religion, or no religion, you were at risk. You could be unfairly taxed, your property could be taken away, and you could even be attacked or imprisoned. Secularism means that no religion is put above any other. It means that nobody gets special treatment for being a member of one religion, and nobody risks being discriminated against (at least not by the government) for being a member of another religion, or no religion.
Secularism isn’t a group, but Secular Humanism is. Secular humanism is considered a philosophy or a moral system. It is non-theistic. Secular humanism is thought to be something that touches every aspect of life. It deals with a number of social justice and moral issues including those related to values, meaning, and identity. Secular humanism is thought to address those issues that atheism doesn’t deal with.
Secular humanism is a philosophy that deals with ethics within the material, or natural, world. It holds that the natural world is all there is, and that we can only gain knowledge by studying nature using the scientific method. Secular humanism is a philosophy that accepts naturalism, or holds to the belief that the supernatural does not exist. Secular humanism is also a Consequentialist philosophy. It accepts consequentialism as true. This is to say that the consequences of a persons actions are seen as more important than the intentions. It is also believed that the good action is the one that brings about the best consequences. Different types of consequentialists see this as meaning different things. Some believe that the actions that bring about the most pleasure for the person who acts is the best action. This is called Hedonism. Others believe that the act that brings about the best consequences for the most people is best. That is called Utilitaianism. There are numerous types of Hedonism and Utilitarianism, and they all take consequentialism to mean slightly different things. Consequentialism goes against command ethics, which takes right and wrong to be derived from a divine authority.
To many, secular humanism is where morality meets atheism. While atheism is merely the belief that there are no gods, secular humanism tells us how to determine if something is moral and how to make decisions based on that morality. It is not necessary to be a secular humanist to be a moral atheist, but it is the secular humanists who are most concerned with morality from an atheistic perspective.
I consider myself to be a secular humanist. I like their value system and their focus on ethics. Unfortunately, there is no secular humanist community in my area. However, I am trying to get more active within the secular humanist community.
The next term I’ll discuss is “Freethought.” Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that believes that all positions regarding truth should be formed around logic, reason, and empiricism, and not on authority, tradition, or dogma. Those who practice freethought are called “freethinkers.” Freethinkers hold knowledge and reason as the standard by which truth can be discovered. Freethinkers strive to build their beliefs on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logic. Freethinkers believe that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of gods, and any other supernatural phenomenon. Freethinkers don’t have to be atheists, or even non-theists. Theists can and have been freethinkers. However, most freethinkers are atheists, and theists tend to find that freethought goes against what they believe.
I am a freethinker. This is the category, other than atheist, that I feel most comfortable with and that I attribute to myself the most often. As the leader of a freethinker group, it is also the category that I’m the most familiar with.
The last term I will discuss is “Ignosticism,” also known as “igtheism.” Ignosticism is the belief that all theological positions assume too much about the gods and faith, spirituality, heaven, hell, afterlife, damnation, salvation, sin, and even the soul. Ignostics believe that all religious terms and concepts must be defined before they can be discussed. Without a coherent definition, an ignostic takes the position that the possible existence of the concepts being presented is meaningless. It has been suggested that ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, but some people disagree with this. As I don’t know much about ignosticism myself, I’m not willing to comment on whether it is or isn’t a variation of atheism or agnosticism.
I’ve heard this question a million times. People want to know how we as atheists can believe in anything, since we don’t believe in God. The answer to this question is not a simple one, since all any two atheists have in common is their disbelief in gods, but there are a few common answers. Some of which include “I believe in the goodness of people” or “I believe in people,” “I believe in the beauty of nature,” “I believe we all have different answers to that question,” and “I believe in doing what is right.” But there are any number of answers to this question, because God isn’t the only thing people believe it. We all hold many beliefs. As such, the question “what do you believe?” is a bad question. Atheists have beliefs. We have dreams and desires to. They just don’t involve gods.
However, this is a touchy question for atheists. Most people are willing to give some variation of the answers listed above, but there are two other common answers that are less positive. One answer is that the person doesn’t believe in wasting time worrying about what other people believe. This answer isn’t negative in the sense that it is mean or rude. Rather, it is an answer based on what the person doesn’t believe, not on what they do believe. Instead of worrying about belief, the people who answer in this way they prefer to worry about their own lives and how best to live them. These people generally think that there is nothing logical or worthwhile about theological or religious debates. The other answer is to say that atheists don’t believe anything. Obviously, I disagree with this. However, a lot of atheists think that “belief” is synonymous with “faith.” And “faith” to an atheist generally means “believing without evidence.” Most Atheists prefer to be as logical as possible, so anything that doesn’t suggest evidence is generally mistrusted.
So, as an atheist, what do I believe? I believe that people are neither good or bad. People are people. We all make good decisions and bad decisions. Some people make more good decisions than bad decisions, others make more bad decisions than good decisions, but most of us make around the same number of good and bad decisions. And most of our decisions are simply neutral. I believe that it is important to actively seek out new knowledge. The more true things we know, and the less false things, the better off we are. I believe that it is important to travel. I want to see the world. I believe it is important to help people, but we must be aware of how our actions affect the people we set out to help. Expecting everyone else to be able to achieve what I achieve is ridiculous, because we aren’t all born in a position of equal opportunity. But sometimes, by trying to help others, we actually do more harm than good. I’m a feminist, so I believe that men and women (and everyone else) should be equal. I’m a Socialist, so I believe that it is the governments job to help its people lead comfortable, safe lives. And, of course, I believe there are no gods. In fact, I believe there is nothing supernatural whatsoever. I believe in many other things too, but I think I’ll stop here for now.
My point is, atheists hold many beliefs as is anyone else, we just also happen to not believe in gods.
This is a simple question with a simple answer, but there is a lot of misinformation surrounding atheism. As such, I think it is important to go into quite a bit of detail about what an atheist actually is. This post will be in three parts: the first part will discuss what atheism is, the second part will discuss the idea of different types of atheism, and the third part will discuss how someone can be an atheist.
Let’s begin with what atheism is. To put it simply, atheism is the belief that gods don’t exist. As I stated before, this is a simple answer, but it is surrounded by misinformation and disagreement.
The definition of an atheist is “a person who believes gods do not exist.” This definition can be found in dictionaries and online (although some definitions are Christian-centric). Both definitions make it clear that atheism is characterized by a lack of belief in gods, or in their existence. Many people assert that the absence of belief comes about by deliberate choice. That atheists believe that they chose to become atheists. Many Christians often use this claim to assert that atheists are choosing to spend eternity in hell. However, the possibility of an inability to believe in gods is often ignored outside of atheist circles. Many theists believe that, since they cannot imagine not believing in their god(s), atheism must be a deliberate choice made by the atheist. It seems odd to me that a theist would be so willing to say that they could never choose to be an atheist, but then are quick to tell an atheist that they must have chosen. Personally, I do not believe I chose to be an atheist. In fact, I tried very hard to prevent myself from becoming an atheist. Atheism is also accused of being born out of ignorance of religious teachings. For some atheists this is true. Some people are not raised religious, and they simply do not believe in gods because they were not taught to. These people might not have any knowledge of religious teachings. But the vast majority of atheists were raised within a religion, and they tend to have as much knowledge, if not more, about that religion as do their peers and many atheists try out numerous religions before concluding that they are atheists. As such, it cannot be assumed that an atheist is ignorant of Christianity.
Some people believe that atheists are either strong or weak atheists. They believe that a weak atheist merely has an absence of belief in gods. Meanwhile, they believe that strong atheists actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. I can understand the wish to believe this: it makes it possible to discuss “those good atheists” as opposed to “those bad atheists.” However, I do not believe this view holds any relevance. In my experience, an atheist, regardless of whether they claim to believe that gods don’t exist or to merely lack a belief in gods, is an atheist to the same degree as every other atheist. We have different reasons to word our disbelief differently, but it is not any more or less of a disbelief. The differences between atheists do not lie in this realm, they lie in the realm of what we add to our atheism.
We’ve covered the fact that atheists don’t believe that gods exist, but why don’t atheists believe in gods if we know that there is no proof that they don’t exist? Simply put it is because there is no reason to. There may not be evidence that gods don’t exist, but that doesn’t matter because there is also no evidence that those same gods actually do exist. We aren’t placing a bet, we are stating a belief. Without evidence to hold a belief, why would we hold it? This seems to be a complicated idea for many theists to understand: most atheists don’t think that there is proof that gods don’t exist. Rather, we think that it is more likely that they don’t exist, because, if they existed, there should be ample evidence of their existence that would convince everyone. After all, in the majority of mythology (including the Bible), gods made their existence fairly obvious by actually interacting with humans.
According to a recent Pew Religious Landscape survey, 14% of people who call themselves atheists say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including 5% who say that they are certain about the existence of God or a universal spirit. This leads one to wonder: are they atheists? After all, claiming to believe in and god goes against the definition of what it means to be an atheist. In my mind, I would say that they aren’t atheists. While I believe that it is not for me to tell a person what labels they can or cannot have, I do believe that allowing anybody to label themselves however they want destroys any meaning that the label would hold. I do not think that somebody who doesn’t believe in the existence of Jesus should be considered a Christian, because Jesus as the son of God is a very important part of being a Christian. I wouldn’t tell someone that they aren’t a Christian because they don’t fit my definition of a Christian, but I would tell someone that they aren’t a Christian if they don’t believe in God or Christ. Likewise, I won’t tell someone that they aren’t an atheist because they aren’t my kind of atheist (though it is tempting to do so at times), but I will tell somebody who believes in a god that they aren’t an atheist, because atheist is the belief that gods don’t exist. There are also many people who fit the dictionary definition of an atheist, but they don’t call themselves atheists. This makes more sense to me than someone who believes in gods calling themself an atheist. This is also why reason why I don’t want to force labels on people. Atheism is a widely misunderstood, and mistrusted group. There are many misconceptions about atheism, and it is often scary to be an atheist. People have been fired for being atheists, some people have even been murdered. And even those of us who face no risks as far as our lives and livelihoods go face a certain level of discrimination. I have lost track of the number of times I have been told that I can’t be moral, and it is both accepted and expected that people will be openly hostile towards me for no better reason than because I’m an atheist. Who would want to apply a label to themself when they risk discrimination for it? Especially when calling oneself an agnostic or a non-theist doesn’t cause the same reaction. And even many non-religious people view atheists as the assholes while agnostics and non-theists are viewed as kinder and more PC (it’s funny how people like the idea of people being PC when it makes them comfortable, but they hate it as soon as it tells them they can’t be assholes).
It is important to acknowledging that “atheism” may mean different things to different people, and that their personal definition may not fit the conventional understanding of the word, but it is also important to understand that definitions exist for a reason and watering them down too much only causes them to become useless. It has been argued that someone may take an active dislike to institutionalized religion, but they may still believe in some sort of a deity, so they may adopt the title “atheist” as a kind of protest against the institution that they disagree with. I understand this disagreement, however, there are better labels to use. For instance, many people prefer “spiritual” if they dislike the institution of religion. Being spiritual allows one to maintain their belief in a god, but being an atheist doesn’t. It has also been argued that some of the survey respondents may consider themselves atheists but use the term “God” to refer to abstract laws of nature or the principles of the universe. This seems odd to me, but less problematic. Rather that watering a term down, one is simply adding another term to a definition. This doesn’t water the term down, but it does make communication more difficult. The article that discussed the survey suggested the concepts of narrow atheism and wide atheism as ways to understand how someone could be both an atheist and a theist. It was suggested that someone might be a narrow atheist if they don’t believe in a god in the sense that it is commonly accepted by Western society, but they might still believe in some sort of a spiritual force. A wide atheist simply rejects any concept of the supernatural. Personally, I don’t like these concepts. Atheism and theism are already in a binary relationship. You are either a theist and believe in gods, or an atheist and don’t believe in gods. Further more, this is not a problematic dichotomy in that it does not dismiss anyone’s identity. Adding the definitions of wide and narrow atheism doesn’t add anything, but it does water down the concept of atheism. It also doesn’t help atheism gain acceptance within mainstream society.
I have already discussed a couple of categories of atheism. However, those were not the categories I meant when I said that I would discuss different types of atheism. Rather, I was concerned with the categories that indicate what people add to their atheism. These types are types that I ave not considered in the past, but thought were worth sharing.
The first category is the Intellectual Atheist. This is said to be the most common type of non-believer according to The Pew Research Center with nearly 38 percent of atheists being Intellectual Atheists. It is said that these atheists enjoys intellectual discourse. While they are often very certain about their beliefs, they don’t tend to have a holier-than-thou attitude. Unfortunately, Intellectual Atheists are often judged as being dogmatic because they tend to join skeptic groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others. They like to debate religion, but they don’t chase down believers to argue with them. Since this category describes me perfectly, I may be of this type. However, as you will see, I also fit into other types.
The second type of non-theist is the Activist. These atheists are also commonly accused of being dogmatic, but, like the intellectual atheist, they are set in their beliefs but intellectually flexible and don’t try to attack the religious. Activists are motivated by humanist values and wish to make the world a better place. They often deal with other issues on top of their atheism, for example, feminism, LGBT rights, or pseudo-science. They also tend to advocates for a more egalitarian atheist community. As a result, they often attract a lot of abuse from some atheists who disapprove of linking secularism with larger social justice issues. They make up 23 percent of non-believers. I also fit perfectly into this category, and I rejoice at the thought of 23 percent of atheists being Activists.
The third type of non-theist is the Seeker-Agnostic. They only makes up 7.6 percent of non-believers, and are unlikely to be very critical of religion, as compared to the other categories. They prioritize not-knowingness, which seems silly and pointless to me. They apparently don’t really believe in anything, and they seem to be uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely. They tend to get accused of intellectual cowardice by atheists. While I don’t believe they are cowards, I do believe that they aren’t willing to admit to a belief that they in fact hold (that being whether they think a god exists or not). But, as I said earlier, I understand this willingness to not label oneself.
The next type is the Anti-Theist. Anti-theists tend to be conflated with all atheists by theists, but they only make up around 15 percent of non-believers. Like Intellectual Atheists, they enjoy debating religion, but they tend to be much more aggressive about it and are willing to actively seek out religious people to debate with them. While atheists generally limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as their real goal. Personally, while I don’t see ending religion as the main goal, I also don’t see a problem with this goal. However, I do have a problem with how aggressive anti-theists are towards the religious. I don’t find such aggression helpful. However, type of atheism does have a time and a place.
The next type is the Non-Theist. They simply don’t believe in any gods. They don’t think about those who do very often, or rather, they don’t think about belief in gods very often. They only make up 4.4 percent of non-believers, probably due to the fact that religion makes up such a vital part of society. I know a number of people in this category. While I don’t think that religion is something to take so lightly, I do understand the wish to see religion this way. I also hold no ill-will to those in this category.
The last type is the Ritual Atheist. They make up 12.5 percent of atheists. They don’t really believe in the supernatural, but they do believe in community, and they enjoy this aspects of religious tradition. Ritual Atheists tend to align themselves with a religious tradition even while professing no belief, which seems to bother both religious and non-religious people. While I don’t do anything like Sunday Assembly, I do like a lot of the tradition surrounding Christianity. I have actively tried to move away from a lot of it in order to create my own traditions, but I think community is important, and I’ve always enjoyed traditions. As such, I could probably easily fit into this group.
While I understand breaking atheism (or non-belief) up in this way, these categories are not perfect. As you can see, it makes it easier to understand the motivations of different atheists, and it separates atheists in a different way that doesn’t try to suggest different ways of disbelieving. But it is problematic in that it suggests that you can only be in one category. As you can see, I fit nicely into three of those categories, so it is too simplistic to say that you can only be in one category.
So how can someone be an atheist? Or rather, what makes someone an atheist? Why would someone want to be an atheist? And does wanting to be an atheist matter? Here is some advise that can teach what it takes to be an atheist, but it cannot make someone an atheist.
The only required step is to not believe in any gods. If you assume that there are any other requirements to being an atheist, then you do not understand what an atheist is. Unfortunately, a lot of people do believe that being an atheist has other requirements.
We all come to our disbelief in different ways. For some people, not believing in any gods can be difficult. They may be afraid to give up their belief, or they may see it as impossible to disbelieve. Those in the latter category don’t generally become atheists, but, if they do, it tends to take them years to lose their belief. Other people come to atheism a lot easier. For them, it is natural. Many of them realize that they never truly believed, or that they stopped believing at a young age. This is the category that I find myself in. However, what’s more difficult is determining what to do after you realize you don’t believe in any gods any more. You don’t have to do anything other than not believe to be an atheist, but coming to the conclusion that there are no gods can challenge a lot of your deeply held assumptions and lead you to question, and even change, a number of your other beliefs. It happened to me. My advise would be to do research and determine why you believe something and whether that justification still makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, don’t feel ashamed about changing beliefs. The most difficult thing about becoming an atheist is how people will treat you. If you come from a religious tradition, then you likely know more people who are also part of that tradition than are outside of it. As such, people will start treating you differently if you tell them that you don’t believe in their gods any more. This could range anywhere from people questioning why you would stop believing and wondering if it’s a phase to being actively hostile towards you. You may lose friends and family. However, as daunting as it can be, you can find a community of like-minded individuals.
This will be the first post of our Atheism 101 series.
The series will be as follows:
1) What is Atheism?
2) What do Atheists Believe?
3) How is Atheism Different from Other Forms of Non-theism?
3.1) Atheism vs. Agnosticism
3.2) Atheism vs. Anti-Theism
4) Religion and Atheism
4.1) Atheism and the Bible
4.2) Atheism and the Koran
4.3) Atheism and Western Religion
4.4) Atheism and Buddhism
4.5) Atheism and Hinduism
4.6) Atheism and Eastern Religion
4.7) Atheism and Spirituality
4.8) Atheism and Faith
4.9) Atheism and Gods
5) Philosophy and Atheism
5.1) Atheism and Freewill
5.2) Good vs. Evil
5.3) Atheism and Science
6) Atheism is Not a Worldview
7) Atheism as a Belief System
8) Arguments for Atheism
8.1) Arguments Against Atheism
9) Why do Atheists Debate Theists?
10) Why do Atheists Care What Theists Believe?
11) Logical Fallacies Aimed at Atheists
12) Why Aren’t Atheists Theists?
13) How to be a Moral Atheist
13.1) Morality and Evolution
14) How do Atheists Live?
15) Common Misconceptions About Atheists
16) Why Be an Atheist?
16.1) What Does Atheism Have to Offer?
16.2) Atheism and Death
16.3) Atheism and Life
17) Raising a Family as an Atheist
18) Atheism and Sexuality
19) The Ex-Atheist
20) Helpful Resources
This series is meant to help non-Atheists and new (as in new to Atheism) Atheists understand what atheism is, why someone might be an atheist, and how to talk to an atheist and about atheism in a way that is mutually beneficial and respectful. It is meant to help eliminate misunderstandings and create an environment of mutual respect. Comments will be encouraged, and are appreciated, throughout the series. However, insults and attacks will not be tolerated. We are not forcing anyone to accept atheism, and we are not attacking theism. Please do not attempt to convert us either. And please show everyone in the comment section the same respect. This is about education and understanding, it is not about being right or arguing.
Withteeth and I were not expecting the response that we got to the last post I wrote, so I thought I’d write a similar post using the Moral Argument Against God found here: http://infidels.org/library/modern/raymond_bradley/moral.html.
Here is the argument:
Premise 1: It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.
Premise 2: It is morally wrong to provide one’s troops with young women captives with the prospect of their being used as sex-slaves.
Premise 3: It is morally wrong to make people cannibalize their friends and family.
Premise 4: It is morally wrong to practise human sacrifice, by burning or otherwise.
Premise 5: It is morally wrong to torture people endlessly for their beliefs.
Conclusion: God violates of our moral principles.
The author of the page given above did their own discussion of this argument, so you can click the link if you would like to read theirs. I will write my own discussion of the argument here. This argument is meant to show that God, namely the God of the Bible, is not a moral agent. It is not meant to disprove God.
The first premise states that it is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing. I don’t think this is something many people would disagree with. I think that it can be assumed to be true. However, what is “serious wrongdoing?” Given what I was told when I was doing my review of the Bible, it seems as though believers either assume that the people the Israelites slaughtered couldn’t be innocent, or that it was all the Israelites’ fault that the slaughter happened and not God’s. I find the second line of reasoning dishonest because the Bible credits God with ordering the Israelites to commit the slaughters. As such, you either have to ignore what the Bible says, or accept that the Bible has problems. The second option is more commonly accepted than the first, but I’ve seen the first occur too. However, the argument that those the Israelites murdered couldn’t be innocent is a problem for this premise. The Bible doesn’t actually say what the people did to deserve slaughter, it just said that they did bad things. Really, it could be anything. And it’s hard to imagine a two year old doing anything so bad that they deserve to be slaughtered. But it is possible to define “serious wrongdoing” in a way that excuses the slaughter committed by the Israelites: “serious wrongdoing” is committing any act that God deems wrong. By this definition, a two year old can commit serious wrongdoing simply by being born into a group that won’t teach them to worship the God of the Bible.
Premise two states that it is morally wrong to provide sex-slaves for men. Again, I doubt many people would disagree with this, so I think this premise would be said t be true. In the Bible, God tells Moses to kill all the men and boys, but allow the female virgins to live so that they could be used as sex-slaves (Numbers 31). This one is a bit harder to get out of, because God very clearly orders Moses to keep the girls alive to be raped. I’ve seen this passage excused as being “taken out of context,” however, the meaning in this passage is very clear. If the Bible is the word of God, or even it merely portrays events accurately, then God ordered girls to be captured for the purposes of being used as sex-slaves. One would have to say that the Bible is wrong in order to get around this premise.
Premise three states that it is morally wrong to make people cannibalize their friends and family. Another true premise. I can’t imagine that very many people would assume that this is moral either. But in Jeremiah 19:9 God says “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.” Once again, ignoring God’s word or dismissing the Bible as wrong is the only real way around this. I’ve heard people say that God is merely warning people of the consequences of their actions, but, if this is what God meant, one must wonder why God said “I will make.” If God is not making them eat people, why is he saying he is? Why not just say “You will”? This is not a misinterpretation, and saying it is is merely an excuse to avoid dealing with the problem.
The fourth premise states that it is morally wrong to practice human sacrificing. Again, I doubt very many people would disagree with this. However, it ignores the fact that, in certain cultures, people chose to be sacrificed. I think it can be said that sacrificing someone against their will is wrong, but I’m not sure it is so cut and dry in the case of those who chose to be sacrificed. But this isn’t really an issue with the God of the Bible, since God seems to just demand that specific people be sacrificed to him.
Premise five states that it is morally wrong to torture people endlessly for their beliefs. Since this is in obvious reference to hell, which is accepted as just by many people, I’m not sure how many people would actually accept this premise. I believe it is true. I don’t think it is ever okay to torture someone, and I don’t think physical torment should ever be used as a punishment. But it is often justified either because “it’s God’s will,” which, for some reason, means “don’t question it,” or because humans are fallen, which, for some reason, means the actions of someone who lived at least 4000 years ago makes me deserving of eternal punishment regardless of what I do. Of course, there are a lot of people who will say “but God doesn’t send us there any more” or “hell wasn’t built for us,” but that still means that God did in fact build a place for the intended purpose of torturing a living, sentient being for eternity.
The conclusion is that God violates our moral principles. He does things that we determine to be immoral. What’s more, he does things that he has told us are immoral (ie. Killing). This is often excused with “everything God does is moral” or “God’s actions cannot be understood but humans.” But this is another cop-out. If humans can’t understand God’s actions, then how do we know the things he tells us to do are moral? How do we know God isn’t just testing us and we actually aren’t supposed to do what we are told to do? How is it even useful to say “we can’t understand”? “Everything God does is moral” is even more problematic. If everything God does is moral, then it is moral to commit murder and genocide because God did it. So, if genocide and murder are now moral, why shouldn’t humans do it? As such, I can only conclude that this is a valid argument.
A few years ago I took a class on the Old Testament. In the class there were about 4 Jewish students, 3 Muslim students, 10 Christian students, and me. As the class was meant to be taken from an academic standpoint, it was not about whether what we read was true, but rather what the Old Testament can tell us about the people of the time. However, it seemed as though my classmates weren’t interested in anything other than having their beliefs confirmed, so they talked a lot about their faith and their thoughts from their religious perspectives. As I listened to their interpretations of the reading that we had all done, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were not, in fact, reading the same book. In many ways, it was like were weren’t even speaking the same language.
In the years since that class, that thought process has only been confirmed. When I talk to theists, especially when discussing religious texts, it’s like we’re not speaking the same language. I can’t help but think that this is what has caused a good deal of miscommunication between theists and non-theists. When we speak, we use different words, or we use the same words differently. When we discuss scripture or holy writ, the non-theist (or nonbeliever) does not interpret it the same way that the believer does. We see it differently. This makes it very difficult to come to an understanding. It leads to frustration and anger. And I think that it is important to try and realize that this miscommunication is occurring in order to prevent that frustration and anger. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to avoid this miscommunication because it is not always obvious when a word is being used differently.
Some of the words that I’ve noticed as being used differently:
To a non-theist, this means belief without evidence.
Theists, in my experience, use this word differently depending on a number of factors, but two interpretations that I’ve noticed are trust and their relationship with their deity.
A lot of non-theists don’t like this word. Many feel that it implies faith. To me, a belief is just something that one holds true whether it is or not.
I’ve noticed that a lot of theists use this to mean truth.
When non-theists say something is true, we mean that it is supported by evidence.
Theists tend to have two interpretations of this word. The first is the capital-T truth, which seems to me to mean the words written in their particular holy book. The second is small-t truth, which seems to be defined as true facts.
When a non-theist says this, we generally mean someone who identifies as a Christian.
When a Christian says this, they can mean a number of things. They can agree with the non-theist, they can mean someone who has been saved, and they can even mean someone from their denomination only. It can be difficult to determine what is meant when someone says this.
When an atheist says this, they mean someone who believes that gods don’t exist.
When a theist says this, they often mean someone who asserts that there are no gods, or they may try to differentiate between the above claim and not believing in any gods.
When I hear a Christian say this I hear “the Bible,” but it seems that they often mean “the Gospels.” I’m not really to sure about other religions , but I generally just take “scripture” to mean “holy book.”
When non-theists say this, we generally mean a series of beliefs that inform a person’s view of the world.
When theists use worldview, it seems as though they often mean a single belief, or a few beliefs, where religion is concerned, and only where religion is concerned.
When non-theists say “give me evidence,” we mean tangible evidence. We mean “give me something I can see, touch, and accept.” We want something that will convince us, which means that we need to be able to confirm it.
Theists tend to use “evidence” more loosely. They often conflate personal experience with evidence, and they often try to show their holy book to be true using that holy book.
This one I think is generally a matter of whether or not one has had philosophical training, but there is still some difference between theists and non-theists.
Non-theists tend to mean a series of claims meant to support a conclusion.
Theists often mean getting into a shouting match.
This is not an all inclusive list, but it includes the words that I have noticed getting used differently the most. And it includes some of the most common usages that I have noticed. Also, while I say theist vs. non-theist, I’ve noticed this mostly between members of the Abrahamic religions and atheists/agnostics (I don’t have much dealings with people within the Eastern religions, and I haven’t noticed Pagan’s using words that I use differently. Well, not enough to comment on anyway).
What other words get used differently between theists and non-theists? What do these words mean to you?